Recruiting Top 100: Five Prospects Who Made MLB Debut
Andrew Benintendi, OF, Red Sox
2017 Top 100 Ranking: No. 1. College commitment (high school graduation): Arkansas (2013).
Benintendi played for Midland (Ohio), one of the most storied travel ball teams, and it was there that Todd Butler, then Arkansas' recruiting coordinator, first saw him. Butler was watching some of the Razorbacks recruits play for Midland in the Connie Mack World Series and was impressed with Benintendi.
“He pulled ball down the right field line for a home run and he was running good times down the line," Butler said. “He was a tough get."
Arkansas was eventually able to get Benintendi committed, but Butler, now head coach at Wichita State, didn't realize he had landed a future College Player of the Year. Butler saw Benintendi as a prototypical leadoff hitter and center fielder. But Benintendi worked hard to get stronger and grew into above-average power in time.
“I never anticipated him to be a guy of his size," Butler said. “He reminds me of Fred Lynn. I don't know why, maybe it's the way he hits home runs and jogs around bases. His power and strength have surpassed what I evaluated."
Butler got to see the results of Benintendi's hard work up close last year when he watched a Red Sox game in Boston.
“He's a fun player to watch," Butler said. “He glides around the bases, he can steal bases, he's a good defender and he can hit. When I was sitting in Fenway looking at the stats in center field, I was going, 'He's one of the up and coming stars of the game.'"
Dansby Swanson, SS, Braves
2017 Top 100 Ranking: No. 3. College commitment (high school graduation): Vanderbilt (2012).
Josh Holliday, now the head coach at Oklahoma State, was Vanderbilt's recruiting coordinator when he first saw Swanson. Swanson was a good high school player, but at the time he was not famous or projected to develop into a first-overall draft pick.
“Identifying him, recruiting him, seeing him, he's the first kid I've ever encountered that went 1-1," Holliday said. “And the whole thing began as a trip to Atlanta to see an infielder."
That first game, and seemingly every subsequent time Holliday watched him, Swanson stood out.
“He showed great quickness at times, great burst and ability to run the bases," Holliday said. “He would impact the ball and drive the ball and do something exciting. He had great positive energy and field presence, which his always appealing, especially when you're seeing a player for the first or second time.
“He brought a sense of excitement and positivity to the middle of the baseball field, which, at that time, as a junior in high school, was what you were looking for."
The next time Holliday went to see Swanson, he took Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin and Swanson again stood out for his all-around game. Holliday was impressed with Swanson and thought he would be a good player, but he has also been impressed by how much he has developed since high school.
“I thought he had a chance to be pretty good, I did," Holliday said. “How good, sometimes you really never know as a coach until you spend time with them on a daily basis. He evidently was made of all the right stuff. The amount of growth that he was a part of was remarkable. It's a strong statement on his behalf and that of Vanderbilt for developing him. I thought he had every ingredient you look for when you're trying to find the right player and the kid did the rest."
Lucas Giolito, RHP, White Sox
2017 Top 100 Ranking: No. 25. College commitment (high school graduation): UCLA (2012).
UCLA coach John Savage has an impressive track record of identifying elite pitchers in Southern California and found another future star in Giolito. The righthander committed to UCLA at the beginning of his junior year of high school.
Savage said what stood out about Giolito at the time was his physicality. He was already 6-foot-6 and had impressive stuff.
“Long, physical, strong, naturally strong," Savage said. “He would kind of overpower guys would be the mantra of what I saw. The physicality, the ability to dream on his projection was there. There was some velocity there that you could dream on."
Giolito quickly became the top prep player in the 2012 draft class, with lefthander Max Fried, his teammate at Harvard-Westlake School (Los Angeles) and a fellow UCLA commit, not far behind. Leading up to his senior season as he threw 95-99 mph, many scouts believed Giolito might be the best high school righthander in draft history.
Ultimately, Giolito sprained his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow that March, ending his season. He still was picked in the first round by the Nationals and went on to sign with the club. After making his big league debut for the Nationals in 2016, he was traded to the White Sox the following winter as a part of the deal for Adam Eaton. He returned to the big leagues in 2017 and pitched well for the White Sox.
Giolito and Fried have remained close with the UCLA program and sometimes work out at the Bruins facilities.
“This guy was advanced physically," Savage said. “He's very smart. Very bright, as was Max. For whatever reason, it seems like he's found his spot. It seems like he's in a pretty good spot."
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Hunter Renfroe, OF, Padres
2017 Top 100 Ranking: No. 47. College commitment (high school graduation): Mississippi State (2010).
Renfroe was toolsy but very raw player at a tiny high school in Mississippi when recruiters started noticing him. Most believed he would need a couple years to develop to the point where he could handle high-level college competition and were content to let him go to junior college. When Lane Burroughs, then a Mississippi State assistant coach, started following Renfroe, his lone offer was to Meridian (Miss.) JC.
Burroughs, now the head coach at Louisiana Tech, knew Renfroe was raw but was convicted about the quality of his tools.
“I vividly remember telling coach (John) Cohen this exact phrase - and I meant it - 'If you put Hunter in showcase with Bryce Harper and didn't put a name on the back of their jerseys, you probably wouldn't recognize the difference,'" Burroughs said. “I felt he had those tools. It's kind of underrated how fast he is. He's fast twitch, really big and physical."
Burroughs was on vacation when Cohen, then Mississippi State's head coach, and Butch Thompson, then Mississippi State's pitching coach and recruiting coordinator, went to see Renfroe in a tournament. Renfroe put on a show for the Bulldogs coaches.
“They called and said, 'You got what you wanted,'" Burroughs said. “'He hit two home runs 500 feet and they put him on the mound and he hit 96 (mph), so you got what you wanted.'"
The Red Sox drafted Renfroe in the 31st round in 2010, but he upheld his commitment to Mississippi State. He did need a year to develop before he was ready to be a regular for the Bulldogs and another year before he truly broke out. Once it clicked for Renfroe, he went on to become a first-team All-American as a junior and was drafted 13th overall.
Renfroe hit .231/.284/.467 with 26 home runs as a rookie for the Padres. Burroughs has enjoyed watching Renfroe's career unfold. Burroughs said Renfroe's success hasn't changed him.
“He's just a country kid," Burroughs said in January. “He doesn't get sped up. I guarantee right now he's somewhere in the woods hunting. I don't think Hunter to this day knows how good he is."
Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees
2017 Top 100 Ranking: No. 90. College commitment (high school graduation): Fresno State (2010).
Pat Waer was Fresno State's recruiting coordinator when he got a tip about Judge from an area scout and, while he was on his way to Stockton, Calif., for a game, stopped in Linden, Calif., to see him play in an American Legion game.
“I see a big, gigantic human being on the mound," said Waer, now the Bulldogs' volunteer assistant coach. “He was 86-88 and he had a gigantic swing."
Judge then came to Fresno State's camp and “did everything you would want a prospect to do," Waer said. Judge ran a 6.8 60-yard dash, threw 88 mph off the mound and hit home runs in both batting practice and during the game. The Bulldogs offered Judge a scholarship following the camp and he quickly accepted.
“I just don't know why no one else was on him early enough," Waer said. “It was all a very easy recruitment. After camp, his mom said, 'What does Aaron need to work on to get better?' I said, 'He needs to work on saying yes, that's pretty much it.'"
Judge held firm in his commitment to Fresno State even as he got attention as a football player. Waer is convinced that Judge could be playing in the NFL now and said their biggest recruiting challenge would have been if Pat Hill, then Fresno State's football coach, had been able to convince Judge to play football. But Judge stuck with Fresno State and baseball. The Athletics drafted him in the 31st round - Jermaine Clark, their area scout at the time, is now on the Bulldogs' coaching staff - but Judge wanted to go to college.
“He showed up on campus as a typical freshman that just happened to be bigger than everyone else," Waer said. “He went about his business right. He was a good, solid college freshman and progressed each year."
Judge has stayed in touch with Waer and Fresno State head coach Mike Batesole throughout his journey to the big leagues. Waer isn't surprised by Judge's success in pro ball, but he said he couldn't have predicted his immediate rise to stardom for the Yankees.
Now, however, Judge, the 2017 Rookie of the Year, is an unquestioned star. He returned to Fresno State this fall and stopped by a practice, much to the surprise of the current Bulldogs.
“He walks by all the kids on the bench - none of the kids know him - jaws dropped, eyes got wide," Waer said. “It was like if Michael Jordan walked into a room. The kids were a little bit in awe because what they know of him is what they saw him do on TV this year.
“He's such a high-character guy. He's really grounded. It couldn't' be happening for a better guy. That's why he got through what he did this year - he's grounded, he's humble, he's a grinder. The key to his success is his personality."